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Kentucky Derby Update: Derby Dream Within Reach in Casse Barn

Kentucky Derby Update: Derby Dream Within Reach in Casse Barn

LOUISVILLE, KY – The 2-year-old champion Classic Empire and the Grade 1 Florida Derby runner-up State of Honor could bring a lifelong dream to the Mark Casse barn in the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on Saturday, May 6.

“Every night, I dream of winning the Kentucky Derby, and it’s surreal to have the chance to walk over with this year’s possible favorite (Classic Empire),” assistant trainer Norm Casse said. “We’ve had such a frustrating winter and, knock on wood, things are going very well with him.”

The colt’s trainer, Mark, is scheduled to arrive Thursday evening.

Classic Empire, who was the unanimous 2-year-old champion by winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, came back over the winter with several training issues that forced the colt to be sent to the Winding Oaks Training Center in Ocala, Florida.

“We went back to step one,” Casse said. “Martin Rivera, who first rode Classic Empire as a baby, got back on him to try and figure out his quirks. We brought Martin with us to Arkansas and, since that worked out, he’s here at Churchill.”

“I’ve worked for the Casses for almost 15 years now,” Rivera said. “We have had a great relationship over that time and I’ve worked all of the babies Mark buys at the sale.”

“We’ve been very happy with how well Classic Empire has been doing in his training,” Rivera continued. “He seems like a happy horse here and he gets over the surface great.”

With a start in the Kentucky Derby, Classic Empire would be the richest horse to start in the Kentucky Derby, with $2,120,220 in earnings, surpassing Snow Chief’s record in 1986 with $1,719,040.

Classic Empire galloped 1 1/2 miles Thursday morning with Rivera aboard and is expected to breeze sometime this weekend.

Casse’s second Derby hope, State of Honor, has been training steadily at Churchill Downs, including a 1 1/2-mile gallop Thursday with regular rider Orlando Cross up. The Ontario-bred son of To Honor and Serve is scheduled to breeze Friday morning at 8:30.

In addition to State of Honor, the following Derby horses are scheduled to work at 8:30: Gunnevera, Practical Joke, Always Dreaming, Battalion Runner, Patch, and Tapwrit. Malagacy is slated to work before the 8 a.m. renovation break.

Oaks fillies planning to work during the 8:30-8:45 window are Tequilita and Jordan’s Henny. Wicked Lick is slated to work, with the time to be determined, and Vexatious may work.

Scheduled to work at Keeneland are Derby hopeful Irap and Oaks contender Daddys Lil Darling.

Kentucky Derby Wagering Guide


Trainer Todd Pletcher’s Derby roster all posted 1 3/8-mile gallops Thursday morning and are slated to breeze Friday morning.

“I think we may have a window of opportunity tomorrow with the weather,” Pletcher said. “I am looking forward to breezing them and taking a little edge off.”

Sumaya U.S. Stables’ Malagacy galloped shortly after the track opened for training with Isabelle Bourez aboard. No decision has been made on his Kentucky Derby status.

Coming out at 8:30 was the quartet of Brooklyn Boyz Stables and Teresa Viola Racing Stables’ Always Dreaming (Adele Bellinger up), St. Elias Stable’s Battalion Runner (Nick Bush up), Calumet Farm’s Patch (Bourez up), and Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Robert LaPenta’s Tapwrit (Silvio Pioli up).

John Velazquez (Always Dreaming) is the only rider Pletcher has confirmed for Derby 143.


Kendall Hansen, Skychai Racing, and Bode Miller’s Fast and Accurate galloped 1 1/8 miles at Trackside Louisville Thursday morning at 6:00 for trainer Mike Maker.

The Grade 3 Spiral winner is expected to van from Trackside to Churchill Downs Sunday and breeze at 8:30 a.m. under regular exercise rider Joel Cano.


Peacock Racing Stables’ Gunnevera galloped 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Victor Farrel after the Thursday morning track renovation break.

“He really liked the track this morning,” trainer Antonio Sano said of the conditions that were on the damp side after sporadic morning showers.

Sano had planned to work Gunnevera on Saturday, but with a less-than-favorable forecast for that morning, he has opted to work Friday morning at 8:30 instead.


Trainer Steve Asmussen’s contingent of horses galloped Thursday morning at Churchill Downs.

Hence, with Angel Garcia up, and Untrapped, with exercise rider Juan Vargas aboard, trained during the Derby and Oaks exclusive training period at 8:30. Lookin At Lee galloped at 7:15, while Local Hero galloped at 7:45. Both horses were ridden by Garcia.

Lookin At Lee would be the next horse into the Derby field with any additional defections. Local Hero is No. 24 on the preference list.


Albaugh Family Stable’s J Boys Echo galloped 1 1/2 miles Wednesday morning at 8:30 with regular exercise rider Tammy Fox aboard for trainer Dale Romans. Jockey Luis Saez is confirmed to ride the colt in the Kentucky Derby.

“Robby (Albarado) is going to talk with Luis before the race,” Romans said of J Boys Echo’s previous rider, who was injured in a race last week at Keeneland. “It’s been a tough couple of days, and Robby was the first one to tell me he’d talk with Luis about the horse.”

J Boys Echo is on target to breeze Saturday morning at 8:30 with Fox aboard.


Whitham Thoroughbreds’ McCraken galloped 1 1/2 miles after the morning renovation break with exercise rider Yoni Orantes aboard for trainer Ian Wilkes.

McCraken, who has had two works here since finishing third in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes on April 8, is scheduled to have his final pre-Derby breeze on Sunday.

“Weather? What weather?” Wilkes said with a laugh about any concerns over the forecast before turning to his rider. “Brian (jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.), he’s been in the rain before, hasn’t he?”


Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence’s Practical Joke galloped 1 1/2 miles after the renovation break with exercise rider Fernando Rivera aboard.

Trained by Chad Brown, Practical Joke is scheduled to work in company at 8:30 Friday.



Likely starters in the 143rd running of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands to be run for 3-year-olds at 1 1/4 miles on Saturday, May 6:
Always Dreaming (John Velazquez)
Battalion Runner (TBA)
Battle of Midway (Flavien Prat)
Classic Empire (Julien Leparoux)
Fast and Accurate (TBA)
Girvin (Mike Smith)
Gormley (Victor Espinoza)
Gunnevera (Javier Castellano)
Hence (Florent Geroux)
Irap (Mario Gutierrez)
Irish War Cry (Rajiv Maragh)
J Boys Echo (Luis Saez)
McCraken (Brian Hernandez Jr.)
Patch (TBA)
Practical Joke (Joel Rosario)
State of Honor (Jose Lezcano)
Tapwrit (Jose Ortiz)
Thunder Snow (Ire) (Christophe Soumillon)
Untrapped (TBA)

Possible starters within the Top 20 on the preference list: Malagacy (TBA).

Next up in order of preference: Lookin At Lee (TBA), Sonneteer (Kent Desormeaux), Royal Mo (Gary Stevens), Local Hero (TBA), Master Plan (TBA), and Petrov (TBA).

Churchill Downs

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